Angi Sanders Painter

Passed away. Left this earth. Went home to be with Jesus. Died.

Cancer sucks. That’s not news to anyone. All of those phrases fail me. There’s no sufficient way to convey the rending I’m experiencing losing my friend Angi so unexpectedly, but let me try.

There’s hemorrhaging in my heart and I can’t staunch the aching flow. My stomach is twisted and I yearn to curl up in my bed and cry myself out. My throat is clogged with unspoken words and questions…so many questions. I have phantom limbs burning to hug her once again. The pounding rhythm in my head cries out that life is not fair. It never was. It never will be.

Everything aches.

Outwardly, I’m placing one foot in front of the other, keeping my chin up, and plowing through my to-do list. I have a family to take care of, a conference to prepare for, and a life needing to be lived. I cannot change my circumstances this week and won’t be gathering with the rest of her loved ones (Oh, how she loved me, and I her) as they honor her life, so I’ll do that here, with my words.

She loved my words and never stopped telling me so, especially when I couldn’t seem to string them together in a coherent thought without chasing them down rabbit trails. My words are wild things I’m still learning to capture and contain, but she never stopped telling me I could do it. She always believed in me. I’m sure she still does.

We met fourteen years ago at my son’s first birthday party. We became great friends, though she told me later that I scared the crap out of her. She was on the quiet side while I only visit there occasionally. ;) She embraced me and my family and loved us well. We spent hours shopping, creating, sipping, laughing, and lounging. We helped each other pack and move, got lost in long theological arguments discussions, held each other during the painful parts of life, and when we no longer shared a city, made sure the phone lines between us worked properly.

Kyle and Angi

I can still see her blush as she told me about meeting Kyle and hoping he was “the one.” I can hear the laughter and conversation around our dinner tables as we spent time in each others homes after they were married. My mommy heart remembers the love I felt towards him as he hoisted my little Max into his fishing boat and handed him a wrench, setting him to “work” with him and calling him “little buddy”.

It was a Sunday morning when my friend Angela called to tell me Angi and Kyle were in a terrible car accident and Kyle was killed. I flew back to Indy as fast as I could to trudge through that nightmare with her. We slept a little and talked and cried a lot. We found ways to celebrate our togetherness while grieving such a terrible separation from him. It was horrible and beautiful. I remember lying next to her on their bed while she dialed his number over and over again just to listen to his voice mail message, tears streaming down both of our faces.

She held me through some terrible losses of my own, making sure my family was fed when I could barely function, gifting me with things I couldn’t buy for myself, speaking encouragement to me even when I didn’t want to hear it. Always loving me and thanking me for our friendship.

She was a teacher and amazing with children. She changed the lives of lots of little people and their families. When I decided to homeschool, she not only supported me but told me, “If anyone can do it, it’s you.” She helped me figure out my kid’s learning styles and gave me lots of recommendations. She called me to lament over some of her student’s home lives and wanting to take them all home with her. She had a big heart and a certain grace for parents even when she wanted to wring their necks for not seeing the treasure they had in their children. I loved that about her.

I’m good at a lot of things, but my kitchen skills? Not so fabulous. I’m a follow-the-recipe kind of girl, but Angi was one of those annoying people who throw things together and voila! It’s a gourmet meal. Angi taught me a few things about southern cooking and we had lots of crazy discussions about the way to a man’s heart. I teased her and made her blush when I told her us Yankee girls had our own suggestions on how to get that done. Ha! She patiently showed me how to make her Chicken and Dumplings, and it’s her mama’s sweet potato pie recipe that I’ll bake (with pumpkin) next week for Thanksgiving, as I do every year. I taught her how to make Beer Brats, so I think we’re even. Wait, that wasn’t me, that was my husband. Never mind.

Angi and Niki

Angi drove all the way to Oklahoma City to surprise me at a Ladies Retreat I was speaking at. On one of her trips to visit me in Colorado, she held my hand while I got my first tattoo, though no amount of cajoling could make her join me. She took me to a traveling Lord of the Rings exhibit and bought me a Galadriel ring, only making fun of my nerdery a little bit. She taught me how to make jewelry and I taught her how to get organized, something she told me she’d get around to someday. We started and failed in a business together. I shared my beloved mountains with her. She went to summer camp with me for several years as my nanny – the best one my kids ever had. She loved all of my children, but had a special bond with my Zoe. Maybe it was a girl thing. Maybe it was a Zoe/Angi thing. I loved watching them together.

When I started blogging back in 2004, Angi called me and said, “I just found you on the internet! Well, it’s not you, but this lady could be you, you’re so similar.” And that’s how I met my friend Pam, a kindred spirit on the other side of the country. Angi brought us together. She was good at that.

Angi and Toby

A few years ago, she called me and said, “Let me tell you about Toby!” I giggled as she gushed about this man she had met and how sweet he was. She felt so lucky to have found love again, something she had always doubted she would find in the first place. She was so happy to have such a great love and sang his praises about his care for her. Because life is complicated, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, but I love that man for loving my friend! I wish they had been able to make the trip out to Colorado like they had repeatedly tried to plan.

Angi and Holden

Then there is Holden. What a beautiful little blessing he is! Angi was heartbroken over not being able to have children, but she and Toby began preparations for adopting that sweet little guy before he was even born. He changed everything. A lot of my current agony is for him. He’s got an amazing daddy and I trust that he’ll grow up hearing stories about his sweet mama and how much she loved him.

Painter Christmas

Back to the “C” word. The first time Angi told me she had ovarian cancer, it took me about 5 minutes to go through all the stages of grief. Then I became Warrior Niki. I prayed with her and for her. I told others to pray for her. I took on whatever role she needed me to take on while we talked. I became loving mother, encouraging friend, ass-kicker, and grieving sister. Many of our phone conversations took place while she was lying on a hospital bed with a tube in her arm, or in the middle of the night when she knew I’d be awake to talk with her through the nausea and insomnia. I tried to be there in spirit during the good days and bad. I didn’t get the chance to be there in person, but she never held that against me.

A few weeks ago she texted me:

Angi Text

I’m a writer. I can’t believe my last words to this woman I love were, “Awesome!!! :) I’m so glad!” I have so many other words I could have chosen, but I didn’t know. I thought we’d have several thousand more exchanges. I wish we had. By the time I found out she had been given two weeks to live, she was already gone. It was another shocking Sunday morning. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I’m terrible at goodbyes, but I would have found a way.

I am awed by her life and so very grateful she shared it with me. She was strong and weak and real and bursting with love and faced everything even when she wanted to run and hide. I am devastated by her death and healing will be slow, coming in waves, because that’s how I do things.

A well-meaning friend posted something on my Facebook page about not grieving because I know I’ll see her again. Yes, Angi and I shared our faith too. But friends, while I am confident that we will meet again someday, that sentiment doesn’t do me a bit of good today. It’s not comforting at all. My deep sorrow is not indicative of my level of faith, it’s a testimony of my overwhelming love and compassion, something gifted to me by my heavenly Father. This sucks, and I think God thinks so too.


For those of you reading this that knew her too, I say grieve how you must, without guilt or platitudes or rushing through it. Now is the proper time for that, so do what you have to do. No matter where you are, be thankful for the ways Angi impacted your life. Speak or write the words you’re choking back as you relive the memories you made together. Honor her.

For those who didn’t know her, I hope I’ve given you a glimpse of who she was. She was a beautiful soul and she will be greatly missed.

It’s been a hard week, and it’s only Tuesday! My friend Heather called late last night and I shared a bit of my funk with her, but I still went to bed unable to escape the feeling of being crushed. People have failed me this week. I’ve failed myself. I’ve failed others, and it sucks. Like lava flowing through my veins, my anger has been an internal companion lately. I find myself getting irritated by things that wouldn’t bother me if I was feeling like myself, which I’m not.

Is this an identity crisis? Do I need to just pull up my big girl pants and get over myself?

I’m reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I think she’d tell me I’m not being kind to myself. I wonder if I’m experiencing my mid-life unraveling? She describes it as a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. I’m doing heart and soul work and like Brene describing her own journey, it’s a bit like slogging through mud on my journey to living wholehearted.

I’ve been focusing on all the times I HAVEN’T kept my word, said or done the kind thing, loved someone well, served with compassion, finished what I started, and lived like I wanted to. I’m caught in the sinkhole of wanting what I won’t ever have and feeling sorry for myself. But it’s not just a pity party; it’s a deep grieving for an impossible relationship. Most of the time it’s emotionally manageable, but in my current state, it cements me in the bottom of the sinkhole. I need a rope.

I woke up this morning to a text from my friend Cherie. As we messaged back and forth, she made me laugh and I felt a little sun. I shared a bit more of my funk with her, and she spoke my name back to me, reminding me who I am. I lay in bed for a while, crying to God about my life and the uncertainty I’m feeling. Pete must have crawled in our bed after Benny left for school this morning because he was curled up asleep on Benny’s side. As I was wiping my eyes, his little voice said, “What’s wrong mommy?”

“I’m just sad right now and I’m talking to God about it.”

A minute later, my phone beeped. It was a Facebook message from an old high school friend. Stephen shared a video of his lesson from last Sunday, telling me that somewhere in the middle of his talk about Grace, he told the story of a time in high school when I called him out. It’s a story he has shared several times because for him it was a rooster’s crow…a call for a new beginning. A call to remember the grace we live in. He thanked me again for allowing God to use me to get through to him. I cried some more. The year I met and knew Stephen, my senior year, is one I’ve always referred to as my year from hell. But God used me in that hell and He gave me a few good friends. Stephen reminded me of that today of all days.

I guess that’s three rooster crows. Heather. Cherie. Stephen.

I’m still in my pajamas, and I may stay that way today. That’s okay. In my core, I know who I am. On the outside, sometimes I forget. My face is dry now, but my heart still hurts and I’m crying out to God. He’s the only one who hears the things I don’t feel safe enough to share with other people. He doesn’t hand me my big girl pants and tell me to snap out of it. He’s the one who sends three friends to speak life to me and remind me who I am, and then He holds me while I cry.

Watch the whole thing, but minutes 16-20 are about the rooster crowing. Good stuff! Here’s the link:

Undeniable Grace

P.S. My memory surrounding the letter I gave to Stephen is a bit hazy. I’m a wordy girl, so I’m sure the song lyrics weren’t the only thing I wrote, but I can’t remember what else I said. I only remember how nervous I was giving it to him, prepared for the possibility of it being the end of any friendship we did have. Lucky for both of us, we weren’t close enough friends for me to make him a whole guilt-inducing mix tape. Imagine slogging through that! ;)

And Stephen, if you read this, I’m humbled I’m part of your story. My heart is the same, but my methods have changed, and like you, I’m all about God’s grace! Thank you for messaging me today. Your timing was perfect.

I shared some thoughts a few months ago on Peter and the rooster crowing:  Jesus, Peter, Me, and the Number Three.

Catching you up on the photo challenge pics:

10-ArchitectureDay 9 “Architecture” – The Denver Central Public Library is a 540,000 square foot monstrosity of “public happiness.” Designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves, the library opened its doors in 1995. The building is a work of art, but nothing compared to the beauty it houses. I took this photo on the top floor.


Day 10 “Sign” – They missed one. ;)

11-StrangerDay 11 “Stranger” – Taking pictures of strangers isn’t that strange for me. I was coming out of the movie theater and saw this girl standing against the wall reading my friend Kim’s book. I was so excited, I asked if I could take a picture to send to Kim. She was gracious enough to let me. Strangers don’t scare me, but I might scare them.

12-View from your windowDay 12 “View from your window” – Greetings from inside the car wash.

13-reflectionDay 13 “Reflection” – See me twice? Try to look me in the eye.

14-treeDay 14 “Tree”

unnamedDay 15 “Vehicle” – Frontier Airlines flight into Kansas City, MO. My favorite transportation this week.

16-AnimalDay 16 “Animal” – This is a rescued sea turtle living at the Kansas City Sea Life Aquarium. You can’t see it in this photo, but he’s missing his front right flipper.

17-Itty BittyDay 17 “Itty Bitty” – How does anyone write in something so small? The second one is more my style.

18-musicDay 18 “Music” – Music moves me. I play several instruments poorly, but I play this one the best. She was a gift from my love. She spends way too much time in my closet these days.


The 47 Day Photo Challenge

My friend Don and I recently started another challenge. You can read all about it (and check out the great photos) on the blog I created for it: http://47dayphotochallenge.wordpress.com

It’s fun and creative, but I was most excited about practicing consistency, my lifelong pebble in my shoe. That’s why we call it a challenge. We have 30+ friends who’ve joined us so far. The majority of us are amateurs (me) using our smartphones and apps to capture our vision of the day’s subject. A few of us are using pretty sweet cameras and know a thing or two about lighting and composition. All of us are in it to have fun. At the end of each week, I’ll post my pics here too. You can click on each photo to enlarge it.



3-Something Blue-Niki3-Something Blue

4-Looking Up-Niki4-Looking Up



7-Laugh- Niki7-Makes you laugh



I am in Nashville, Tennessee for Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference this weekend. Let me tell you how it all came together.

My Texas friends Chris and Allen, and my Colorado friends Luke and Jason, all attended Storyline and came away changed men. They don’t know each other but they’re all men I hold in high esteem, and they know me well enough to know that I needed to attend Storyline, and they told me so. Though I was hopeful, I knew it would take tremendous finagling and a small miracle to make that happen. And it did.

Luke emailed me a few months ago to let me know for the conference in Nashville would have a “pay what you can afford” option, and encouraged me to register. He and his wife wanted to help make this happen for me.

When we got our tax refund, I got online and registered, paying money that wasn’t “extra” but trusting that God and my extended friends and family would help make this a reality.

Chris has wonderful parents who have a time-share in Nashville, so he arranged for me to stay at a beautiful resort this weekend as their guests.

My friend Cherie gave me vouchers for two free car rental days with Hertz.

Luke rallied some other friends and they chipped in to pay for my airfare. (I want to honor them but don’t know if I have permission to publicize who they are.)

I had to come up with money for registration, the other 2 days of car rental, gas, food, and the deposits required. I’m a part of an AMAZING group of people! They’re generous, encouraging, and challenge me to leap beyond what I think is doable. I’m not a very good dreamer and tend to settle for less, so I am incredibly grateful for my people who push me to dream and pursue. I’m here in Nashville…pursuing.

Several years ago I attended a National Youth Workers Convention where the late, great Mike Yaconelli told us we tend to wear ourselves out at these things. We succumb to the pressure of attending every workshop and activity offered, sucking the marrow out of the experience so it was worth our money. He gave us permission to grab a bottle of wine and hole up in our rooms if that is what our spirits need. My spirit need both focus and rest this weekend.

I fell asleep watching a terrible movie last night, and woke up to a text from Benny. The hours in between were spent wrapped in blankets with the ceiling fan on and lots of pillows cradling my body. No dog scratching at the door, no children waking me up in the middle of the night, no saggy mattress that hurts my back, and no list of things I must accomplish today to keep life moving along. Just a dark, quiet, peaceful, beautiful room holding promises of the kind of rest that comes with stepping away from my daily routine for a bit. I chose to skip the pre-conference blogger’s breakfast this morning and wake up leisurely. No guilt. No regrets.

I’m heading out to the university for pre-registration and to find some lunch, but felt the need to blog first. I’m redefining and refreshing some things this weekend. I started this blog in 2004 and it’s morphed into several things over the years, just like me. It’s changed with my needs, wants, and pressures to be something other than what it is, and yet it’s still me and my journey.

The Open Window 2

My blog is an online window into my life. Not everyone wants that view, and sometimes I close the curtains for a bit, but I’m still here and I’m welcoming you to join me on my journey.

You are so much more than…

Most of my blog posts could start with, “I have this friend…”

I have this friend who buys me Chai…a lot, and another friend who tells me I’m amazing on the days I feel like a big fat failure, and yet another one who tells me when I’m full of crap. These ladies have shaped me, but many times my growth has come through loss instead of love. Or maybe it was love in the midst of loss. Tonight I’m thinking about a friend who said goodbye, and the incredible impact he made on me.

This friend and I spent quite a bit of time together during a pivotal season of my life. His parting words to me were beautifully sweet and I should have known they were a goodbye. I can be naive like that, thinking friendships last forever. Some don’t. There was pain for me in the parting, but he left me with an amazing gift – words to dive into and explore. Words that moved me into a place of introspection and quality time with God. I’m sure he has no idea the impact his letter made on me. Here’s a brief glimpse of what he said:

“Do not let yourself be bound by the labels that others write out for you or that you unjustly write out for yourself.  Only judge yourself by who you come to know you are through your relationship with Christ and time spent getting to know yourself…You are so much more than… (He inserted a list of activities and titles I mistakenly thought defined me.) Understand the places where flowers grow after you have been there. Understand that part of you that possesses greatness while still being totally separate from what other people think or know of you. Understand why and how God loves you in particular.”

I have that paragraph memorized. Why? Because that friend was one of many God has used to speak this message to me. That bold part? I’ve created several pieces of art with that as the centerpiece. That phrase was pre-tattoo sleeve, and probably influenced my idea for the design.

I’ve been pondering identity this week and I’m stuck on the phrase, “So much more.” My friend Nick used that phrase on Sunday and I cried. It’s definitely one of my heart messages, and I need to share it with you. Ready?

YOU are so much more than the labels you and others write out for you. YOU are so much more than __________ (fill in the blank for me) and YOU need to understand the places where flowers grow after YOU have been there and why and how God loves YOU in particular…because He does. He loves YOU like crazy. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or whether or not you believe in Him.

My friend’s words have become a mantra for my life – to leave people better than I found them. I want flowers to grow in their lives after I’ve been there. I am finally walking daily in the knowing that I am so much more than, and so are you.

I know. Spell check didn’t like that word either.

As I reflect on my sabbath year so far, I have some confessions to make, besides the one that I chose to title this post. It’s been a weird year. Not terrible. Not great. Confession #2: This whole resting thing seems like laziness and I feel like I have to justify it to others. Not that anyone is demanding I do, it’s the subtle reactions I get when I talk about what I’m NOT doing now.


A few of my friends have made comments about gearing up for my busy summer. That’s the pattern I’ve lived for the past several years – summers filled with ministry stuff and little time for anything else. As much as I love our SABBATH groups, I heaved a sigh of relief when Benny and I decided to take the summer off to rest and play as a family. Now, what does that look like? I have no idea. We’ve never done that before. Ever.  I think the last time I took the summer off to rest and play, I was in high school. You know, before I had to get a real job and be a responsible grown-up.

My attempts to talk with God about all of the stuff I need to work on: Character flaws, my lack of ability to finish what I start (like drawing challenges – ha!), caring too much what other people think, and my homeschooling quandary, are met with Him telling me to rest, and that I worry too much. Yeah, I LOVE hearing that. ;)

Slowing down has had some unfortunate consequences. Confession #3: Lately I’ve been feeling disconnected, lonely, forgotten, like I’m starving for attention. I am a pursuer, and I think my friends depend on me pursuing them.  When I don’t, I’m shocked (and a little hurt) at the lack of people pursuing me. Is it a reflection of my personality? Do I appear too busy? How do I change that? Do I need better friends or better communication skills? Probably the latter. My friends rock.400930_10151235683754257_888308935_nBenny and I had a long chat about this. Using the same tone of voice as he would say “of course you’re a redhead” he told me that of course I’m a pursuer. It’s my personality. It’s what I do. Mr. Smartypants also told me that my friends probably do assume I’m busy all of the time because I am. Except now I’m not, and they’re all confused. He asked who my close friends are now and told me to focus on them and not worry about whether or not I’m being pursued. He also told me to back off the toxic relationships in my life. Good idea. This advice was free and I didn’t even have to lie down on the couch and discuss how I feel about my mother.

Confession #4: I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know what I want.

The next 77 days (not including my two weeks of camp in Oklahoma) are stretched out before me. I want to read, have long chats on the phone, over Skype, or sit across from you – my friends –with a cup of Chai in my hand, watch movies, teach my daughter how to throw a fast-pitch softball, read, write a real letter, work on the novel I tell people I’m writing, beat my son at cribbage, take the other son down in a water balloon fight, sleep until noon, update my coupon binder, go on dates with my husband, and read some more. And I want to do these things spontaneously.

 I don’t want every day on the calendar filled in,

but I want every day to be full.

That’s my plan. I’m not a good rester, but I will be.

How about you? What are you looking forward to this summer?


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